But participating in the DVRPC Board Retreat at the Ace Conference Center in Lafayette Hill brought me back to reality. Around here the Active Transportation movement must be wintering at Valley Forge.
The opening session was a presentation about the current transportation funding crisis in Pennsylvania. Basically to build everything in the 2035 Long Range plan transportation funding must double. The tolling on I-80 proposal has failed and the current political climate makes a hike in the gas tax highly unlikely. On the Jersey side the Transportation Trust Fund faces bankruptcy
But it was the breakout session that showed me how far we still needed to go.
People started talking about trends and were saying the right things, young people moving back to urban areas and are delaying their driver licenses. On the opposite end of the spectrum a lack of transportation options affects our ability to age in place. The new economy may end the flight to the exurbs. The region is almost totally built out. Cities and inner suburbs share the same problems.
But when we started talking about where the region should invest in the future the conversation starting taking a more conservative route.
My mention of how transportation can affect of obesity and diabetes generated laughter - Some were snickering, but for others there was a realization that some in the room suffered from those disorders. (My BMI = 28)
The question that DVRPC Technical Services Director Charles Dougherty asked next was what three mega-projects should the region invest in.
Kathleen from SEPTA went first and came up with the most sensible project - a single fare collection media for the entire region (think EZ Pass for transit).
But when others listed their preferred mega-project the answers were more predictable.
My selection for a mega-project was also predictable - Complete the regional trail network. This could be completed at a fraction of the cost of the other projects. Charles Dougherty asks for votes - silence in the room.
The final vote - Fare Collection, I-95, Broad Street Subway.
It got worse when the breakout sessions came back for review, one group actually advocated for not spending transportation dollars for trails and funneling that tiny pot of money to interstates instead. Of the four breakout sessions our panel was the only one that proposed transit projects in our top 3.
As I was hearing this it came to mind that I should have proposed another idea for a mega-project - No more mega-projects. Keep our current transportation network in good repair. Direct funds throughout the region to solve community transportation problems and improve transportation choices.
So are the visionaries who attended Pro Walk/Pro Bike living in a bubble? Are the transportation officials who were at the DVRPC Retreat living in another? The reality is that neither faction has the tools to sell their case to the public. Active transportation advocates are by necessity message savvy but lack the resources to reach a general audience while transportation officials have the resources but have never figured out a way to make people care about infrastructure.
Can we talk here?
*I have been advised by a City transportation official that the current main I-95 project is mostly a reconstruction project with some widening elements which has been mandated by the FHWA - http://95revive.com. Based on the discussion during the voting, the group seemed to be making a statement supporting projects along the entire corridor, which includes capacity building projects such as the I-95/PA Turnpike Interchange and the Scudder Falls Bridge which of course includes the bike/ped path that we advocated for.